BOILING SPRINGS, N.C. – In the first two games of the season, Gardner-Webb could barely buy a basket from outside the arc. In the first half on Saturday night, that trend continued as the Runnin’ Bulldogs went into the break having missed on all four of their attempts. But in the second half, the backcourt of Naji Hibbert and Tyler Strange caught fire from downtown and kept the team out in front as the Jacksonville University men’s basketball team furiously tried to mount a comeback. In the end, Gardner-Webb hit enough free throws down the stretch to keep the Dolphins (1-2) at bay and come away with an 87-78 victory at Paul Porter Arena.
JU was on fire to start the contest, hitting its first four shots including a triple from RJ Slawson to take its largest lead of the night at 9-4 after a Jarvis Haywood basket inside. Playing in front of a boisterous home crowd, Gardner-Webb answered with a 7-0 run for its first lead of the night at 11-9. The teams then traded buckets over the next few minutes until Keith McDougald knocked down a jumper from the elbow and drove hard for lay-up to give Jacksonville a 21-20 lead with just over eight minutes gone in the game.
That would ultimately prove to be the final lead of the night for the Dolphins. Jacksonville worked Gardner-Webb into foul difficulty in the first half and scored 11 consecutive points at the charity stripe, but they went 10 minutes without a field goal until Kordario Fleming scored on a putback with less than two minutes until halftime. By that time, the Runnin’ Bulldogs held a 40-34 lead and the Dolphins entered the break trailing, 41-36.
Both teams once again came out strong after halftime, with Slawson and Hibbert leading their respective offenses. Slawson started the second half with an emphatic dunk assisted by Javon Dawson to cut the G-W lead down to three. After weathering back-to-back threes from Strange, Slawson scored in the paint again to make it 49-46. That’s when Hibbert took over.
Beginning with a three-pointer inside of 17 minutes remaining, Hibbert scored 12 of the next 15 Gardner-Webb points in a span of less than four minutes. In that stretch, he ruined a fantastic defensive possession by the Dolphins by connecting on a tough turnaround, then ended the run with another 3-pointer to give the Runnin’ Bulldogs their largest lead of the night at 64-52.
Coming out of a timeout, Jacksonville halted the momentum with a foul-line jumper from Vince Martin. Following a rare Hibbert miss, J.R. Holder grabbed the board, found Martin on the outlet who then dished ahead to Dawson who was wide open against a late-arriving Gardner-Webb defense to cut it back to eight. The next time down, Sam Hunt got in on the act with a circus shot in traffic that hung on the rim and fell in to make it 64-58.
On two more occasions in the second half, Slawson would score to cut the lead to six, but the Dolphins would get no closer. Gardner-Webb earned 18 trips to the line in each half, making 26 of those 36 attempts. After missing a lay-up, Onzie Branch followed his shot and tipped the ball in just before the final media timeout to give the Runnin’ Bulldogs a 77-69 edge. They then scored eight of their final 10 points from the charity stripe in the final seconds to end any hopes of one last Jacksonville rally.
Slawson scored a team-high 19 points while Haywood added 17 for Jacksonville. Martin (11 points) and McDougald (10 points) also scored in double-figures for the Dolphins.
Led by Tyler Alderman’s four blocks, the Dolphins swatted nine shots in the game, a number last reached in an 82-66 win against Belmont on Jan. 16, 2010.
Jacksonville makes a quick turnaround, returning to action on Monday night at Wake Forest. Tip-off is set for 7:00 p.m. and the game will be available on ESPN3
Tyler Alderman matched a career high with four blocks and helped Jacksonville to nine blocks in the game. The nine blocks were the most by the Dolphins since the team matched it in an 82-66 win over Belmont on Jan. 16, 2010.
Keith McDougald scored in double-figure for the 17th time in 18 games. He and Vince Martin are the only two JU players to reach at least 10 points in all three games this season.
RJ Slawson set a career high with 19 points. He hit 6-of-10 from the field and made another 6-of-8 from the line.
JU was whistled for 26 personal fouls in the game, the most since the team had 26 in the 2012-13 season opener at Georgia on Nov. 9, 2012.
The loss snapped a four-game winning streak against Gardner-Webb in the all-time series. JU now holds a 7-6 lead on the Runnin’ Bulldogs.
The Dolphins have had a different single-game leader in points and rebounds in every contest so far.